The Subaru Forester isn't a sport-utility vehicle in the traditional sense. There's more car in the Forester than truck-a good thing because cars handle all but the roughest situations much better than trucks. Add Subaru's well-designed suspension and excellent all-wheel-drive system and there's nothing to fear from snow, mud, dirt, gravel or wet pavement.
The Forester was designed using technology gained by racing rally cars over the most treacherous roads in the world, in Africa, Asia and Europe. Subaru has learned to cope with adverse conditions, winning the highly competitive World Rally Championship three years in a row. And it shows in its production cars.
The Forester inspires confidence in slippery conditions in ways that traditional truck-based sport-utilities can never hope to do. Subaru's all-wheel-drive system constantly redirects power to whichever tires offer the best grip, providing precise control in all types of conditions. Its long, soft springs and stiff shocks allow lots of controlled wheel travel, so bumpy corners don't upset the handling balance. And Forester's generous 7.5-inch ground clearance allows it to tread places a sedan cannot go.
On the road, which is where most of us spend most of our time, the Forester drives like a car. It offers substantially better braking and cornering performance than a truck, making it easier to handle on winding roads or in emergency situations during the stop-and-go of the daily commute. In fact, the Forester holds up well against a sedan. It's fun to drive, a phrase that doesn't apply to trucks in quite the same way. Forester is similar in size to the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, but offers superior performance and handling.
We drove the Subaru Forester up and down gravel roads on the western slopes of Washington state's Cascade Mountains, then we spent a week on the curving rural roads outside Annapolis, Maryland.
Crisp throttle response and competent handling make the Forester fun to drive. There's more low-rpm torque available for passing and better steering response in transient maneuvers than what's available in the RAV4 and CR-V.
Our Forester S was equipped with the four-speed automatic, which we found to be responsive and a good match for the engine. We have driven the Forester with a 5-speed manual, which makes it more fun to drive and provides more precise control. The pedal arrangement is such that the Forester can be driven like a sports sedan and this makes it more enjoyable on mountain roads and dirt trails.
Winding gravel roads are the perfect environment for the Forester. The all-wheel-drive system offers predictable handling when sliding around corners yet the suspension offers sufficient damping to soften harsh vibration and big bumps. Subaru's four-wheel MacPherson strut suspension uses soft springs, stiff shocks and relatively long suspension travel to achieve this balance. Hitting big bumps in the middle of a turn won't upset the handling.
The Forester provides superb traction and balance on slippery pavement. This is among the best cars on the road in a real downpour. Heated front seats, heated outside mirrors, windshield wiper deicers help make the Forester feel at home in the snow and ice.
The Subaru Forester offers excellent dirt road and winter weather performance. On dry paved roads, it offers performance and handling comparable to a sporty compact and is dynamically superior to the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V.
Its off-road capability approaches that of a sport-utility vehicle, yet it inspires much more driver confidence on tricky mountain roads with superior braking and handling performance. Comfortable seating for four and commodious cargo capacity make it an attractive alternative to a truck-based SUV.
Anyone who needs to haul gear down marginal roads should seriously consider the Subaru Forester.